Woeser: Who Are the Real “Orientalists”?

In a blog post translated at High Peaks Pure Earth, Woeser takes Chinese scholars’ criticism of an orientalist Western “Shangri-La complex” regarding Tibet, and turns it around to face them.

It is really peculiar that this “Shangri-La”, which is being ridiculed by Chinese scholars as “Orientalism”, is in actual fact becoming reality right in front of their eyes. In 2001, Zhongdian, the capital city of Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, officially changed its name to Shangri-La. Of course, this was a government move and it connotes authoritarian power. It is said that it was done to promote the development of tourism and attract tourists from home and abroad. But this corner of the eastern Tibetan Kham region, whose name is actually Gyalthang, has experienced numerous name changes along with the overall changing state of affairs. Half a century ago, it was named Zhongdian, and now it was simply changed into Shangri-La.

Indeed, these nice names are nothing but political ventures to cater to the fantasies and imaginations of the “other”. Professor Wang Hui is particularly disappointed about this and thinks that the West’s mystification of Tibet has already spread to and infected China. But does this mean that China usually demonises Tibet and has now started to cater to the West? Or does it mean that the West has finally managed to change China’s demonising stance towards Tibet?

I have previously written that Tibet is by no means the “Pure Land” that people imagine it to be. Tibet is just like any other place in the world, it is a place where people live. The only difference is that it has strong beliefs and is thus a place shining in maroon-red (the colour of the monks’ robes). In history, there have existed two stereotypical attitudes towards Tibet: demonisation and sanctification. The result, however, has always been the same: Tibet and its people have been distorted.

Source: “Who “Who Are the Real “Orientalists”?” By Woeser – High Peaks Pure Earth

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